I’m pleased to welcome Marcus Damanda to the blog with his latest release, Absolution Island.
The chase is over. For Rebecca, Daniel, and the rest of the Forgottens of Second Salvations, there is only one choice: get with the program or die. But there’s a spy lurking somewhere within the cabins of Angel Island, someone with contacts in the outside world. Ruth Black is determined to find out who it is before the world learns the truth about her—and about the special punishment ministry of her husband, the Reverend Matthew.
Rebecca and Daniel are not destined to remain forgotten very long.
Welcome to New America: one nation, under God. An island prison, just for kids, built to convert the very worst of them. Kids like Rebecca and Daniel, with one impossible task:
In this excerpt, which appears near to the climax of Absolution Island, we join Daniel, aka “Faust,” as he takes a most important step toward fitting in with his fellow Forgottens. The Reverend Matthew Black tests his “faith.”
The passage was from the Book of Matthew, Chapter 3. The words echoed from the raised chamber of the font at the back of the narthex:
“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea.”
The Reverend wore his perfect set of teeth, stretching his lips. He felt the tension in them as he spoke, his voice amplified by the natural acoustics of the room, nothing electronic:
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye for the way of the Lord. Make His paths straight.’”
He made no mention of John’s raiment of camel hair, nor of his diet of locusts and wild honey. These were little details, readily available to anyone who chose to read the whole passage. What the Reverend wore was a cotton short sleeved shirt under a purple and white silk robe, along with loose pants he would quickly change out of after this introductory part of the service and before his regular sermon.
The roughly nine hundred parishioners who were watching him would only be able to see the Reverend from the waist up. Sometimes, that was a good thing, as he often had a tendency to get excited during these performances. But not tonight.
He shared a look with his wife, then addressed the audience:
“Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.”
A few called back to him:
“Glory to God.”
“Glory to the Son!”
The Reverend enjoyed quoting the Book of Matthew, his namesake. He liked to think that he was quoting himself, in a way. That Saint Matthew was only a witness to the baptism of Jesus and not its executor was something he generally put from his mind. The Reverend Matthew tried not to remember that it was actually John he was quoting, most of the time. He wanted ownership of the words. They were perfect.
“O generation of vipers,” he seethed at the congregation, “who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance!”
The door to his right, leading back to the vestibule, was painted white. It opened. Drab, still wearing his standard Thresher’s tunic and sandals, led Faust through it, garbed in his white baptism smock. A faint blush rose high in his cheeks, hardly to be detected.
That was normal. Children tended toward nervousness in the matter of getting baptized. They were often self-conscious, too. There was an implicit admission of one’s own imperfections in the very need for baptism, and it was on display for everyone.
But apart from that faintest of color, Faust seemed otherwise as calm as can be. He started, one cautious foot at a time, into the water where the Reverend awaited him. Three steps to the bottom, three feet of water—all representative of the Holy Trinity looking down on them from the heavens above.
The hem of the boy’s smock floated in the water. Faust held it down with his arms by his sides, even though he’d be wearing shorts underneath. Drab remained in the background, watching, long moments after he should have departed.
The Reverend dismissed the Thresher with a curt twitch of his head, then smiled indulgently at Faust. He put his hands on the boy’s shoulders.
“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but He that cometh after me, He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.”
His right hand slid to the back of Faust’s neck, gripped him there tight. His left down the boy’s back.
“Whose fan is in His hand, and he will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner …”
He made as though to move, to lead the boy to his immersion. He saw Faust catch his breath. The music of the pipe organ started. The children began to sing.
And the Reverend paused.
It had been Ruth’s idea, what he was about to do. He wasn’t sure how much he liked it. He did want his wife to be happy—to the extent happiness was practical in their marriage—but he was more than slightly confused by her continuing vendetta against the girl she had named Rags, along with how the equally-promising Faust factored into it.
“I want two struggling devils, not one,” she had said. “I want us both to know she’s worth the time and effort of developing. Recent events have brought her potential, even her Solomon results, into doubt.”
Again, he looked at her, seated at one of the pews for church officials by the altar, hands folded primly in her lap. Her expression was calculated, eyes closed as she took in the organ music that fairly vibrated the wooden walls of the narthex, basking in the sounds of eight hundred plus kids singing There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.
“She needs to demonstrate restraint,” Ruth had said.
Rags was not singing.
But Rags was still one of the new ones. She’d been given little opportunity to learn. He’d reminded his wife of this point—although her idea did have some appeal to him. He would enjoy watching the reactions of the campers, not just Rags, as the show played to its conclusion. Still, he was unsure of himself. He was torn.
“She likes the boy, Matthew,” Ruth had said. “Do you understand me? She lusts after him.”
Faust, his face considerably redder than it had been, let his breath back out. He looked confused. Perfectly understandable.
Quickly, before he could properly catch his breath again, the Reverend brought him underwater. And quoted his namesake again, his voice booming over the singing children:
“But he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire!”
The devil slept at first, just as he always did, and the boy did not struggle.
The Reverend counted in his mind, even as he surveyed the crowd. He didn’t look down. The boy’s reactions were unimportant.
One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand …
He was good at making each count take exactly one second in real time. He’d been at this for years. He had practice. He could do this, and he quote scripture at the same time:
“Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John to be baptized of him …”
The standard time underwater for a boy of this age was one minute. He counted, letting the minute pass. Toward the end, the boy in the water had started to twitch, little kicks. His hands found the Reverend’s.
Fifty-one-one thousand, fifty-two-one thousand …
The Reverend was stronger than him.
He finished the minute, then brought the boy to his feet, back out of the water.
Faust drew in a massive, involuntary gasp of air. His eyes were wide, disbelieving, terrified—
But he had the presence of mind to catch his breath before going down a second time.
“But John forbad him , saying, ‘I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?”
One-one thousand, two-one thousand …
Ruth gave no outward sign of emotion, but the Reverend knew her, through and through. If there was one thing that Ruth was good at, it was the “restraint” she had mentioned—good at it when she controlled a given situation, at any rate. How satisfied she looked with everything, just now.
As for the Rags child, her little friend, the one with the deep brown curling wisps of hair that must have been quite beautiful, when it had been grown out—what was her name?—was holding her hand, trying to sing. Trying to encourage Rags to sing.
Rags’ teeth were clenched. She was holding in a scream so close to the surface that the Reverend fancied he could practically see it—its very sound—trapped at the top of her lungs.
He finished the count, brought Faust up a second time.
A similar response to the first drawing. Made sense. On the one hand, the second time should have been even more difficult than the first, but on the other, the Reverend had allowed him to suck in his wind this time.
“Almost done,” he whispered to the boy, low enough to keep his words just between the two of them, even in here. “One more to go.”
Faust shook his head, pleading without speaking. And that was impressive. He remembered the rules. Drab hadn’t missed a trick, and this boy—this unbelievable boy—still, amazingly, had his head screwed on straight.
He brought him down again.
Still—nothing. No struggling devil. And Rags, who had just seen him take breath, had seen him alive, eyes wide, still hadn’t left her seat or screamed. Now, that was probably something of a struggle … and her little friend was simply dying of fright.
The Reverend addressed the congregation again:
“And Jesus, answering, said unto him, ‘Suffer it to be so now …’”
This time, at thirty, the kicking started. The thrashing and splashing. The boy’s hands on his, the devil trying to wrench himself free. But the Reverend was so much stronger than them, both the boy and the devil who occupied him. The Reverend always been strong. As a lad, he’d been both taller and stronger than almost all of his classmates all the way through high school, just as his father had always been.
“‘… for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness!’” he bellowed.
Ruth wanted him to count to ninety. She had said it was important that he do this. It would make her happy, she’d said.
At sixty-five, the boy took water into his lungs. The Reverend could feel it inhaled through his fingers.
The Rags girl wrenched herself free of her friend and leaped to her feet.
Mom? Daniel asked, still underwater.
She was leaning over him, her hands on the sides of his head, her long hair caressing his face even as the Reverend still held him by the back of the neck. She looked down on him. She kissed him.
Don’t give up, Daniel, she said, as clearly as if they shared a picnic blanket out under the bright early August sun.
I miss you, he said.
I miss you, too, she answered him. Every day. But you are no longer mine to claim. You have your own life. You have things to do. Work to do.
Marcus Damanda lives in Woodbridge, Virginia with his cat, Shazam. At various times throughout his life, he played bass guitar for the garage heavy metal band Mother’s Day, wrote for The Dale City Messenger, and published editorials in The Potomac News and The Freelance Star. To date, ten of his short horror stories have been produced by the Parsec Award winning NoSleep Podcast—featuring the brilliant and talented Jessica McEvoy, who has narrated four of his audiobooks as well. Currently, while not plotting his next foray into fictitious suburban mayhem, he spoils his nieces and nephews and teaches middle school English.
Books by Marcus Damanda:
Vampires that DON’T sparkle:
The Forever Show
Teeth: The Forever Show Book 2
Teen horror and drama (subgenre, “H’rama”):
Devils in the Dark: The Devil in Miss Drake’s Class Book 1
A Devil in Daylight: The Devil in Miss Drake’s Class Book 2
The Devil at Play: The Devil in Miss Drake’s Class Book 3
Dystopian future (There goes the neighborhood …):
The Salvation State
Absolution Island: The Salvation State, Book 2
Keep up with Marcus Damanda by visiting:
Check out his audiobooks, narrated by Jessica McEvoy, at:
And keep an eye out for his next scary story at …